Saturday, 31 August 2013

Free Will and Punishment

I have a lot of time for both Sam Harris and Dan Dennett. I find I often disagree with Harris, but his arguments are usually interesting and well-considered. The disagreements I have with him are often subtle, as in the case of The Moral Landscape, where I think his moral framework is perfectly valid and useful but not the only objectively correct one.

I seem to agree with Dan Dennett most of the time. I like his thinking on consciousness, religion etc, and I admire his gentle, humorous and thoughtful way of expressing himself.

However, Harris and Dennett find themselves in disagreement on the subject of free will, and I have to side with Harris on this one. I think the disagreement is an important one when considering questions of moral responsibility.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Atheism is not Communism

A common argument against atheism is the claim that the deaths of millions in communist China and Russia during the Mao and Stalin eras show what happens when atheism is embraced by governments. The implication is that atheism and atheists are immoral, and that the only thing preventing society from disintegrating into an inhuman authoritarian hell is the morality emanating from the religious in society.

Some even claim that that's where we would be headed if the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens ever got their hands on the reins of power.

I couldn't disagree more.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Consciousness is not like Photosynthesis

I've been posting some comments on Massimo Pigliucci's blog recently in defense of Strong AI, after a couple of posts attacking the computational theory of mind.

In the first, he uses John Searle's Chinese Room argument to demonstrate that a computer cannot be conscious. If you've been paying attention to this blog, you should know what I think of that argument!

In the second post, he uses an article by Jack Copeland which undermines the position of philosophers who take the Church-Turing thesis to imply that a Turing machine can do any computation performable by any machine. Unfortunately, Pigliucci seems to fail to realise that while Copeland is technically correct, the philosophers he criticises are no less so unless some very unlikely propositions turn out to be true (i.e. that the laws of physics are not computable and the brain is a hypercomputer).

But what motivated me to write this post is the same tired old argument that keeps coming up again and again in these discussions, the analogy to photosynthesis.